So you're climbing the corporate ladder at work, juggling life at home, oh, and you're trying for a baby – and it's not as easy as you first assumed. Welcome to the modern world.
There are no exact statistics on how many women in the workforce are trying to have a baby. What we do know is that women are having babies much later in life. Dr Rupert Sherwood, President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG), say reasons for this include taking time to complete higher education and build a career, the need to maintain two incomes and a shift towards smaller families.
Starting a family
You've probably got an idea on when you'd like to start a family. Carole Brown, national president of The Career Development Association of Australia (CDAA), says that many women wait till they have a few years of experience within their career of choice before starting a family, which makes it easier to transition back to work after a break.
When thinking about starting a family, Brown says that "the transition is similar to other career transitions throughout life and some important principles apply". She recommends looking at:
- What you personally and professionally want and the skills you have – a thorough audit and examination of your values, interests and skills will enable you to have good self-awareness of what will work for you career wise.
- Opportunity awareness – an up-to-date knowledge of the labour market and opportunities.
- Still, the reality is that women are having babies later in life, and although they might plan an ideal time, it doesn't always happen straight away. It took Leanne Walker* (who was working as a researcher in a children's services organisation) seven years. "At 28, I realised I wanted to become a parent and I assumed it would just happen. I was wrong – it took us seven years to have a baby," she says.
Trying – so should you tell management?
Brown says that it depends on the quality of the relationship you have with your manager. "The best relationships allow for open and honest disclosure, but what really matters to the boss is if the experience is impacting your performance and attendance at work – in which case it is important to discuss."
Walker chose to tell her supervisor and some colleagues because there was a strong culture of reflection and openness at her workplace. "I developed a close relationship with my supervisor and told her. It turned out that she had also had difficulties having her children and she was incredibly supportive. Another (more senior) colleague had not been able to have children at all. She was very open with me, and I really valued that, along with the example of a caring and successful leader that she set. I could see how she had made a life for herself even though she had so wanted to have children."
Think it through
Each situation is different and it's imperative to weight out the pros and cons. Nicole Green who runs Art Land Indooroopilly , together with her husband, decided not to tell staff when trying for her second child because of the personal and medical nature of the situation (Green had to have surgery to fix the scarring from her first emergency Caesarean birth). "I told my staff when we were going into surgery, not before," she remembers. "I felt it was a personal issue, but once they knew they were very supportive and concerned."
That said, even if you work in an environment where you do feel comfortable discussing your desire to have a baby, think about whom to tell, as you may not want to become identified as someone who is trying to get pregnant. It's crucial to have support; the key is finding support through the right avenues.
Though Walker and Green had completely different experiences, they both agree that stress management within the workplace is fundamental. "If you like your workplace and those you work with, it could be a comfort rather than a stressor for you as you try to conceive," Walker says. "You don't need to tell everyone, or anyone. If you have a close colleague, it might be helpful to confide, so that if you aren't doing well some days, there is someone whom you can talk to."
Sometimes stress and fertility problems go hand in hand. Throw in juggling appointments at work and deadlines, and it's no surprise that stress level further increases. By talking to someone (and it doesn't have to be someone at work – it could just be a friend or your husband) you're being proactive by helping yourself.
Though Green chose not to tell her staff, she says "as an employer it's hard to run a business if your staff aren't 'there' mentally or emotionally, and this is probably one of the hardest aspects in which to maintain equilibrium".
*Name has been changed